Cooking Catchup – With Marcella #124, #125, #126, #127 & #128 (of 466)

The past few weeks I’ve been catching up, turning up, clearing up and cooking up – not storms, mind you, though there have been storms brewing, literally, the last few days. As the thunder has rolled and the hail stones have fallen, I’ve been reminded that I’m in a different country to the one I’ve been living in for so long.

I’m living in another time of transition, just now. I don’t love transition – though I often love the fruit of it and the next stage. I just don’t like the waiting to arrive.

While this past year hasn’t afforded the time to cook as often from Marcella’s book. The recipes remain one of the few constants in my life. Constant, in the sense that I know the recipe will work if I follow it. Even my brother, who is not known for trying lots of new foods, pronounced while looking tentatively into an unfamiliar concoction brewing on the stove, ‘It’ll be good! It has to be. It’s in the book!’

Recently, in another book, I’ve been reading the wisdom of Qoheleth, the Preacher. Ecclesiastes reminds me that everything in this life is transient. I may struggle with transition and wish things to be concrete, but wisdom is found in acknowledging the fleetingness of things. In these mist-filled moments, I am exhorted to enjoy the life that God has given me. Eat, drink and be merry. Do whatever work God gives me, with all of my might. Wisdom is seizing the day as it is, just one day. Just one, among many, in the light of a certain and concrete eternity to come.

I’m glad then, that one book (Marcella Hazan’s ‘Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking’) fits with the exhortations in another book (Ecclesiastes, The Bible). So here, below, you’ll find the fruit of my eating and drinking and being merry with many different folk, as I live through transition and put my hope in a sure, eternal future to come.

#124 ‘Frittata with Asparagus’ with my Mum and two Aunties at my parent’s table, outdoors in the warmth of an Australian Spring.

Asparagus Frittata

Asparagus Frittata

#125 ‘Grilled Chicken, Alla Diavola, Roman Style’ with family at my parent’s table, making prior use of their BBQ for this delicious dish.

Grilled Chicken alla Diavola

Grilled Chicken alla Diavola

#126 ‘Roasted Red and Yellow Pepper Sauce with Garlic and Basil’ with a wise, like-minded friend at my Australian table. (This particular photo is of leftovers eaten the following evening).

Roasted Red and Yellow Pepper Sauce with Garlic and Basil

Roasted Red and Yellow Pepper Sauce with Garlic and Basil

#127 ‘Crisp-Fried Courgette Blossoms’ with my family visiting at my table, for my Dad’s birthday dinner. The blossoms travelled from my parent’s garden and made for a tasty start to dinner.

Crisp-Fried Courgette Blossoms

Crisp-Fried Courgette Blossoms

#128 ‘Asparagus Risotto’ – with Mum, Dad and Brother continuing at my table. Dad declared it to be ‘much better than the frozen risotto packs he heats up when at work!’

Risotto with Asparagus

Risotto with Asparagus

With Marcella #55, #56 & #57 (of 466)

At my table, we ate two tablespoons of fennel seeds. That’s right. Two. Tablespoons.

There were six of us at the table. So we shared the two tablespoons between us.

The fennel seeds had also been mixed into a cake before it was baked. So all in all it wasn’t quite as grim as it sounds.

Still! Two tablespoons!

This was yet another occasion where I had to trust Marcella’s good judgement. I did read the list of ingredients a few times, just to check that it wasn’t actually teaspoons that were required…

Marcella was right, of course. It worked beautifully. A shortcake made of polenta, a little flour, an egg, a little sugar, some dried figs, raisins and pinenuts. Even as I cut and served the cake to my guests, I only cut small pieces in case it was awful and I made it clear that they were under no obligation to eat it.

After each of us took our first bite, there was silence as we adjusted to the unusual licorice flavouring. Then we embraced the cake (digestively speaking!) and grew to love it with each new bite. We all chose to have seconds!

At my table that night, there were a variety of nationalities – Moldovan, American, German, Australian – all foreigners living in a land not our own. Each of my guests were all new to our church and so I had invited them to get to know each other – and for me to know them better.

It was a mixture like the mixture of ingredients in the cake we shared for dessert – and it worked just as beautifully!

We experienced some of the comfort and joy that come from being part of God’s family, having left our extended families in other places. All this with another nationality represented in the Italian food we ate that night!

Two nights ago: #55 ‘Pot Roast of Beef Braised in Red Wine’, #56 ‘Sauteed Early Peas with Olive Oil and Prosciutto, Florentine Style’ and #57 ‘Polenta Shortcake with Raisins, Dried Figs and Pine Nuts’ with Alex, Emma, John, Emily and Erika at my table.

With Marcella #1 (of 466)

At my table I am unsure if I am breaking my own rules. If I am, I am unsure if I care. Tonight I have embarked on a new project, cooking the first of 466 recipes in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Should I finish Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen before embarking on another book? After 100 recipes (of 153) I ran out of steam. But I did reach a milestone.

Should I finish Anna Del Conte’s Classic Italian Recipes? I’ve cooked 49 recipes (of 75) – so I haven’t even reached a neat 50.

Could I do some ‘cross-crediting’ where Anna’s recipes overlap with Marcella’s (and Nigella draws from both their kitchens)? Or would that really be breaking the rules?

I am concerned – but not enough to stop myself beginning a new project. I’ve taken time to count the recipes. I am more than a little alarmed by the chapter entitled ‘Variety Meats’ which contains 11 recipes requiring the use of animal parts I would rather not use.

But I started, tonight, with ‘A Farm Wife’s Fresh Pear Tart’. It was simple, yet lovely. Thinly sliced pears in a light sponge batter. It was a reassuring place to start. Marcella claimed that ‘only an active campaign of sabotage could ruin it.’ I did burn the top a little, leaving it in a little too long – but I was writing an email to an Italian woman – so perhaps I get bonus points?

Who knows what rules apply here – maybe none? But I will start and see if I can finish – or maybe, in the end, be satisfied that I almost finished.

No makings of a movie here. But hopefully the makings of some stories and some moments around tables.

Tonight: #1 ‘A Farm Wife’s Fresh Pear Tart’ with Helen at my table.